Guest Post by Paul Christmas (Joint Chairman of WHUISA)
WHUISA agreed there needs to be a disability association and we are willing to help by having one as part of WHUISA. I have contacted one of the disability reps at the meeting and await a response. Two disabled members of WHUISA have contacted me and we are looking to set something up.
A number of issues came up from the disabled reps with a request for West Ham to have their own congregating place specifically set up for people with disabilities. A room that would be dry, warm and adapted for the variety of disabilities people have. Man U have such a place and is excellent. However where could / would West Ham house such a place?
Disabled changing rooms are available but people I have spoken to since were not aware of their existence.
BUSINESSES IN WEST HAM – LEGACY
The club have no official responsibility in helping such businesses. By the time the residential complex is built on the old ground many businesses in the area will have folded. Delaware North (DN) is the company responsible for authorising the food / drink outlets around the Stadium. It seems the club have recognised that they can help in some way by suggesting they will help to explain the process (an internet pack was mentioned) and give direct contact to DN.
Any business that was at Upton Park that wants to have a presence at the new place should contact Tara Warren (TW) at the club and request details / help. WHUISA are happy to help in any way they can.
HAMMERS SUPPORTERS CLUB (HSC)
As part of a joint committee of HSC members and committee members of HSC discussions have occurred between us and Newham Council while a place has been sourced for the HSC to move to as a satellite. The HSC is fully aware of this but the executive committee has not responded. Further the chair person has had meetings with Tara Warren unbeknown to other members of the HSC committee and the joint committee. This explained Karren Brady’s (KB) comment in the minutes.
The club is the only entity that can save the HSC. The HSC will close soon and will not make the end of the season. I made this point specifically.
A meeting between West Ham, the HSC and Newham Council is scheduled for 8/2 and I wish the HSC all the very best.
The point was made that the toilets (pods) which had been built since those for the Olympics were outside had not been designed very well. For male toilets the one way in and the same way out system made for tedious queues in the BML before, at half time and after the match. Further there are huge numbers of people coming from all parts of the ground to use toilets and massive bottlenecks develop. This is fine for an event like the Olympics when people can go when they want but at a football match there is a massive demand at half and full time. There are also a large number of female toilets. Whilst this is commendable the majority of people in the BML are male and a request was made to see if changes could be made to toilet design as well as possible increase in male toilets. For men there are only a small number of actual ‘sit down’ toilets in the ‘pods’ and this needs looking at too.
Security at the stadium is a big concern to our members. LS185 re-iterated their policy but in the light of current security / terrorist threats I was not convinced and they need to up their game.
Too many young people in important areas of the ground with little experience of big crowds.
The feedback promised by Peter Smith will be crucial. However I would not expect to wait until May 24th for this information to be disseminated.
Many people had problems getting from one place to another in the ground so while KB’s offer to assist a SAB member to get to where they want was kind Adrian Bradshaw did wonder whether this assistance would be offered to the other 50 odd thousand people in the ground. The answer was that it could not for obvious reasons. However why should someone in the SAB be afforded a privilege not available to others?
The club have acted immediately on my request to highlight getting to the match early or you will miss the KO. Such a message was the first thing read on the Man City preview e-mail. This should be on all further preview e-mails.
I further requested separate queues be considered to speed up the process. I proposed a queue for those with bags, one for people with no bags and one for families. This was included in the action plan.
ROUTE TO / FROM STADIUM / WESTFIELD SHOPPING CENTRE
The route changes as there are ongoing building works which will not be finished for a number of years. This is something we have to suffer. Kevin Radley (KR) has looked in to the different number of routes being used out of the stadium and he has identified 5. He said people were fed up with having the routes changed. He provided a route plan to WHUISA and offered to help the club in this issue.
Further Westfield have a capacity in the shopping centre of 35,000 at any one time. They are keep an eye on this but with up to 57,000 coming into the area not shopping related but passing through they are mindful to keep us away as an increase in this capacity may see shoppers not allowed in due to safety reasons.
This situation is compounded if there ever was an evacuation of Westfield. The fire drills see the crowds from Westfield come out towards the stadium so fans are being diverted away in case this happens.
This begs a number questions. Further will West Ham ever play on a Boxing Day at home while the sales are on ? We have not played a home Boxing Day fixture since Arsenal in 2013. We are due one…..
Westfield are in control of their premises and while West Ham can request they open blocked routes such as those by The Cow Westfield are not obliged to accede. Westfield will may respond to a number of lobby / pressure groups but it seems sheer weight of numbers will see us stuck with the current mess of an egress we have as fans. It is tedious.
The actual links are good – it is the number of people using these links which is causing issues. SAB members complained of being herded to stations like cattle, delayed, packed like sardines on trains, noted continual disruption on Greater Anglia services and poor crowd control at Stratford International (SI).
Such things are actually out of the clubs control due however we were promised world class travel links and the ongoing situation, which does not affect all fans, has upset a significant number it does affect.
The anomaly as to who is responsible outside this station came up as people are stopped from getting to trains at this station to allow people at Stratford station to get on. This causes queues outside SI as there is limited pavement space so people are spilling onto the road. There are no barriers here and the roads are controlled by Newham council. What misfortune will it take for someone to do something ?
Direct links between fans and the 3rd parties / travel companies should be set up. WHUISA have offered to be a conduit.
It seems the travel situation is not world class… yet.
WEST HAM ‘LOOK AND FEEL’
KB confirmed the club will have to deliver a clean stadium for this summer’s World Athletics Championships. This means ALL West Ham signage in, on and around the stadium will be removed at the end of this season. Such changes confirm that we are just tenants in a building that will never be our home as the Boleyn Ground was. The club are hopeful that the West Ham sign on top of the roof will stay.
Stewarding produced the highest level of responses from our members. A number of individual concerns were highlighted by SAB members and I made as many points as I could. I highlighted the distrust of fans and 3rd party stewards.
The stadium is a massive operational headache for LS185 who are still learning about how to deal with a 57,000 football crowd. They felt they were doing a good job at game by game 17 but I disagreed and wondered how long it would take for a nasty incident to occur before they were good enough.
While the layout and vastness of the stadium makes the job hard maybe the ground needs to be split into traditional separate stands to make the job easier. I made this point to LS185 at the Chelsea debrief meeting last year.
Details provided by the club on bringing back former Boleyn stewards had been raised at the bloggers / website meeting and so was not discussed at this meeting – something the SAB should be talking about.
Hard ticket checks are only employed at Blocks 112/113/114 .
These are used inside the ground as the stadium is open internally. Anyone from any area can go to any part of the ground. This causes frustration as people are not able to get used to the crowd around them as it constantly changes. This will be the way it is unless internal barriers are introduced to create specific stand areas that we were used to at the Boleyn.
Interaction procedures were due to be initiated for the Man City match but video received by WHUISA which is being made available to the club suggests some have not read the procedures yet.
While the club re-iterated their stance on people informing the club it seems there is not enough feedback from the club / Stadium operators as to what they have actually done. This should be improved.
A number of unsavoury incidents from this area such as coin throwing led to the Safety Liaison Authority (SLA) closing this block and people were moved to block 127. This caused a multitude of issues for many innocent fans however the club said that 97 fans from this block have been banned. A return to block 114 must be authorised by the SLA. Hard ticket checks are in force in this area to stop rouge fans infiltrating the area from other parts of the stadium and coin throwing seems to have stopped.
The club want fans to return to their original seats and a significant number of fans in block 127 still wish to be relocated to block 114. Sadly this is too late for one of our fans and WHUISA founding members – Alan Walker who sadly passed away at the end of January. He was deeply upset at being moved away from the area and a number of his friends and spoke of his wish to watch his beloved West Ham from where he worked so hard to be during the migration process. Our hope and lasting legacy to Alan must be that fans are moved back to this area as soon as possible, they are allowed to enjoy the match in the way they have done for years (singing / shouting / chanting / banter / dancing) and the club ensures coin throwers are persona non grata.
It was revealed that the move to a new stadium saw a decision made where there would be a drive to ensure people sat down at the match. I noted that this drive was unique to West Ham fans and unfair and reminded everyone to watch Match of the Day where you would clearly see fans standing at all Premier League grounds. This drive to make people sit in some areas of the lower tiers was counter productive.
This showed the problem in the migration process where the system failed and families / other people used to sitting at the BG became mixed with fans who had never sat down at all at the BG. This caused in fighting between West Ham fans.
It is noted the club, to their credit, have recognised this problem and have moved 450 people.
I did not receive a direct answer from Nicola Keye (NK) about whether the club would open an area specifically for families despite asking 3 times. In the small print and in the first instance a season ticket holder has the right to renew their seat. Only once this has occurred can a decision be made about relocation issues. In other words the club cannot force people to move from their seat to create a family area.
On reflection post meeting a solution to this is could be to stipulate an area that is to be a family area – say 4 /5 blocks of the Bobby Moore Upper and then those in this area currently should get the first opportunity to move to another area should they not wish to be in the family area. Over a short period of time the club could have an official area for families.
The club acknowledged issues / backlog in dealing with customer complaints and say they have improved this. However the stigma still remains that the club gets information from fans and fails to respond in a large number of cases. I know as I am still waiting for a response to a letter I sent to the chairmen of all people. WHUISA are happy to act as a conduit for fans should they wish to choose them.
KB left for another meeting at 8pm but the SAB continued to meet for about another 40 minutes. The bloggers / website meeting was discussed and this has been addressed in my earlier post.
Joint Chair of WHUISA